Chip Heath on Making Change Easier

We all know change is hard — and so people resist it. Right?

Well, maybe not always. Chip Heath, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, gave an insightful presentation on that theme earlier this month at the World Innovation Forum conference in New York. Heath, who coauthored the books Made to Stick and Switch with his brother Dan, started his presentation with the conventional business wisdom that people resist change — and then quickly pointed out exceptions to that conventional wisdom. 

Two of the notable exceptions, according to Heath? Marriage and having children. Both are dramatic changes — but people celebrate them happily. 

Said Heath: “Who would sign up to work for a boss that phoned you up four times a night for trivial administrative duties? ” And yet, many couples nonetheless “sign up” to have babies. “Change is not always hard, because there are some big changes that we embrace,” Heath observed.

Why, then, do people often resist organizational change? Heath explained a number of principles about making change easier — and one of them involves engaging and motivating people’s emotional side.

By way of illustration, he offered a very funny parody of how a marriage proposal would sound if it were introduced like many business change initiatives are — complete with a PowerPoint presentation including cost-saving benefits expected from the marriage, such as savings on kitchen condiments. “How many successful marriage proposals would we make by making an intellectual argument?” Heath asked.

4 Comments On: Chip Heath on Making Change Easier

  • Kay Allen | June 15, 2010

    As long as change is within the cultural expectation, it tends not to be difficult. Marriage and parenthood are most often perceived as normal expected events that are embraced. But attempt to introduce arranged marriage where the cultural norm is self selection, and resistance will occur.

    If you can work change to fit the cultural expectation in an organization, it is more likely to be embraced. Moreover, small changes are less likely to threaten the cultural expectation.

  • Alana Cates | June 16, 2010

    It should be no surprise when a blanket statement is proven false, like “People resist change.” Even singleton commitphobes have no problem changing: we channel surf, wear different clothes every day (or more often), and hate letovers. We actually complain about lack of change!
    When we move past generalities, we can start to look for the real factors at play including loss of control over the change, loss of identification with a label (married or single?, an expert or an newbie?).
    When decisions occur up to 7 seconds before we are aware of them occurring, it does make perfect sense that intellectual, logical arguments don’t work.

  • Linda Lazarides | July 25, 2010

    It’s an interesting question. I have been in a situation of corporate changes, and believe the resistance comes from a fear of losing control. The status quo is known, therefore is safe. A climate of change introduces potentially unknown factors, and all of us to some extent fear the unknown.

  • Amie Parker | August 29, 2010

    I believe Some employees are simply hesitant to try new routines and automatically express an unwillingness to learn new things. They may say, “I already know all that I need to know.” Like resistant employees who have already made up their minds that the change won’t be productive, employees reluctant to learn something new impede the organization’s growth and adaptation to change. They also hinder their own personal growth and development.

    Helpful post and loads of appreciation for Chip Health’s contribution towards the subject.

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